Discussions / War Against Ukraine

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

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Russia’s vicious war against Ukraine is the last gasp effort to silence the narrative of a Ukrainian nation and make the world safe for Russia’s fantasy that the East Slavs are one (all-) Russian nation. There is no question that this Russian myth of Self has been eroding not only in intellectual discourses but made to look foolish by the success of Ukraine’s nation building over the last thirty years. The foundation of “Russianness”-everything from Kyiv Rus’ to Gogol’-is under threat. Without Ukraine and Ukrainians, there, apparently, is no “Russian identity.” Putin’s solution is not to build a 21st century nation but to reinstate an old imperial idea by trying to hold on to Ukraine through brute force. RIA Novosti celebrated Russia’s victory over Ukraine a little prematurely on Feb. 26, 2022, saying that “Russia is restoring its historical wholeness, gathering the Russian world, the Russian people together in all its totality of Great Russians, Belarusians and Little Russians (malorossov)” (https://web.archive.org/web/20220226224717/https://ria.ru/20220226/rossiya-1775162336.html).

© REUTERS / Valentyn Ogirenko

Like other contributors here, I believe that Slavic Studies and Russian departments in the US (North America) bear some responsibility for helping to sustain Russia’s “national-imperial fantasies” (Marina Mogilner) in the West. When I was a graduate student at Harvard University, D. S. Mirsky’s history of Russian literature was the gospel truth, preaching: “After the Union of Lublin (1569) all the west of Russia (White Russia, Galicia, and Ukraine) came under the direct rule of Poland.“ S. Zenkovsky’s anthology told me that the “literary school of the Kievan era” was “Medieval Russian” literature. My kind Russian instructor, an elderly Russian émigré, was surprised to find out from my class presentations that Ukrainians had their own literature (“u vas tozhe est’”?). Closer to our own time (2004), a ““wide-ranging study.for students” tried to explain Russia’s alleged thousand-year-old national identity (Simon Franklin and Emma Widdis). These examples can be easily expanded. So, yes, there is clearly, every reason to “call for professional self-reflection and for real decolonization of our field.”

How do we deal with our Russian counterparts in Russia? It’s not easy when we see Literaturna gazeta publishing nauseating drivel signed by 500 “writers of Russia on the occasion of the special operation of our army in Donbass and on the territory of Ukraine.” Can one have a dialogue with people who endorse a fascist leader’s destruction of Ukraine, under the guise of “defending ourselves and friendly nations. age-old ties,” saying “We love the Ukrainian people, we sing Ukrainian songs, we watch Ukrainian cinema, we pray in the same churches. We have common ideas, and a keen desire to breathe, finally, the air of the approaching, common spring for our peoples” https://lgz.ru/article/-8-6822-23-02-2022/kto-khochet-zhertv/. Slavic Studies department should follow the example of the art and music world: boycott Russian institutions and individuals who act as Putin’s enablers. The tiny minority of honorable Russians naturally deserve our support.

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